Friday, May 15, 2015

Argo--for real--in Drew Taylor/Larry Weinstein's smashing documentary, OUR MAN IN TEHRAN

For any of you who were impressed with the Oscar-winning Argo a couple of years back (or even for those, like me, who thought that film was overdone and way over-rated), here comes a new documentary that will shed a lot of light on the story of some of those American hostages held captive by Iran some 35 years ago. Coincidentally 35 minutes shorter than its overblown narrative counterpart but packed to the gills with smart history, plenty of background, and many of the same people who were involved at the time, OUR MAN IN TEHRAN, directed by Drew Taylor and Larry Weinstein and written by Taylor and Robert Wright, is actually a kind of homage to Ken Taylor (shown on poster, above, two photos below as he looks today, and at bottom, back in the day), Canada's former ambassador to Iran, and the man most responsible for the safety and rescue of a handful of the hostages.

Perhaps the most important thing that filmmakers Taylor and Weinstein (shown above, right and left, respectively) accomplish is to give viewers a much-needed look at the kind of state Iran was prior to the abdication of the infamous Shaw and the coming to power of Khomeini. Taylor and Weinstein show us what kind of police state, complete with heavy-duty imprisonment, torture and murder the Shaw ran in order to suppress any dissenting voices. (They don't, unfortunately, tells us of the American- and British-led coup that overthrew the democratically-elected regime of Mohammad Mosaddegh and placed the Shaw back in power.)

Still, what's here gives us plenty of understanding as to why Iran desperately wanted and needed regime change toward a more just and equal society. What they actually got was something else, and that has been the story of Iran in the three decades since. The talking heads, many of them from Canada, assembled by the filmmakers, give us a smart, crisp and pungent look at Iranian society taken over by the "elite" and wealthy class. "There were bars (serving alcohol) in a country in which people didn't drink!" Notes another: "People are always happy to ban pleasures that they themselves cannot afford."

We even hear from the Shaw himself, as he explains, "There are many more things which united us with our American friends than divide us." Hello, oil! (Not to mention torture, imprisonment and death.)  There is real history here, from people who are as close to the term "experts" as you might want. And then we learn that no less than President Carter himself did not want to allow the Shaw, now diagnosed with cancer, to be allowed into the United States for treatment. This was most likely the single thing that sent Khomeini and the fundamentalists over the brink and led to the hostage-taking (above and below), yet all of Carter's advisers insisted on allowing this.

Later, and as soon as Ronald Reagan took the Presidential reins, Khomeini (in the photo, below) offered a further slap in the face to Carter by releasing the remaining hostages. (There has long been speculation that Reagan was doing behind-the-scenes dealings for their release even before he took over.)  In Canada, we see a sneering Trudeau, who, out of courtesy and respect, had been told about the hostage situation, and still played dirty politics with it. What a little media-crazy slut he was!

When we get to the actual plans for the hostages' exfiltration -- the Argo/Hollywood connection -- despite what we already know, the filmmakers manage to pack some suspense, a lot of humor and even a little surprise into the mix. Most of all, they give us something a hell of a lot closer to the truth of the situation than Argo offered, with its fake, last-minute, will-they-make-it? nonsense.

As we're smartly reminded at the documentary's close, "President Carter put the hostage's well-being above his own, and that's not typical of the actions of most senior politicians. You have to give him credit for that." Indeed. Can you even remotely imagine President Obama doing anything such thing -- not to mention that war-mongering idiot George W. Bush -- or any of the current would-be Republican candidates?

From First Run Features, the film opens today, Friday, May 15, in New York City at the Cinema Village, and then hits Wilmette, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Cleveland in the weeks and months to come.

To see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters shown, click here

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